Friendship PCS Blow Pierce Elementary Campus’s Dominique Foster is D.C.’s Teacher of the Year

I received the following press release yesterday from Patricia Brantley, Chief Executive Officer Friendship Public Charter School:

Washington, DC) – Today, Mayor Muriel Bowser presented Dominique Foster, a pre-K teacher at Friendship Public Charter School (PCS) – Blow Pierce Elementary with the 2022 DC Teacher of the Year Award. The Mayor was joined by Acting State Superintendent Christina Grant and Friendship PCS Blow Pierce Elementary students and staff to surprise Ms. Foster with the award. The prestigious honor, which comes with a $7,500 prize, is awarded annually to a DC Public School or public charter school teacher who has demonstrated outstanding leadership and commitment to student achievement.


“Washington, DC has the strongest universal pre-K program in the nation, and it’s because of creative and passionate teachers like Ms. Foster who help our young people become curious learners,” said Mayor Bowser. “Thank you, Ms. Foster, for all you have done for your students and school community. Now, we’ll be cheering you on for 2022 National Teacher of the Year!”


In addition to receiving this honor, Foster is now in the running for the National Teacher of the Year Award<https://ntoy.ccsso.org/>, which is run by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). She will also receive an additional $2,500 to support travel to national conferences, workshops, and other professional development opportunities during her one-year term as 2022 DC Teacher of the Year.


“Throughout the COVID-19 public health emergency, Ms. Foster provided a high level of instruction and robust educational experiences during distance learning. When field trips weren’t possible, she brought the community to her virtual classroom, inviting special guests to share their lives and experiences with her young learners,” said Acting State Superintendent Christina Grant. “It’s so important that we honor teachers like Ms. Foster who go above and beyond their call of duty. Congratulations, Ms. Foster, for the well-deserved honor of being named 2022 DC Teacher of the Year.”


The Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) also awarded $1,500 to two other 2022 DC Teacher of the Year finalists: Dr. Takeisha Wilson, a fourth grade English Language Arts and Social Studies teacher at Shepherd Elementary School, and Rickita Perry Taylor, who teaches medically fragile students and students with profound disabilities in grades K-2 at Turner Elementary School.


Foster has been teaching for 13 years, six of which have been at Friendship PCS Blow Pierce. She earned a bachelor’s degree in organizational communication from Xavier University and is currently working on a master’s degree in Montessori Education at Xavier. She has extensive training and experience in Montessori, Reggio Emilia, International Baccalaureate and Creative Curriculum approaches to learning and pulls from each to create an engaging and inclusive classroom learning environment for children of all backgrounds.


Foster began her career at Howard Road Academy Public Charter School in Ward 8, and has held kindergarten teaching positions during the school year and summer at two other Friendship PCS campuses: Woodridge International Campus and Southeast Campus. Foster also supports developing and maintaining a positive school climate through several Friendship PCS leadership roles, including a new educator mentoring program, the annual Friendship Blow Pierce Women’s Expo, a yoga instruction program, and tutoring for young learners and the school’s Early Childhood Graduation program.


“I enthusiastically congratulate Dominique Foster on this accomplishment,” said DC Public Charter School Executive Director Michelle J. Walker-Davis. “Ms. Foster makes learning an experience and believes her students, no matter how young, should have choice and voice in their learning environment. She lives and teaches by that philosophy every day which she is why she is the 2022 DC Teacher of the Year.”


Foster also has participated on committees and teams focused on the charter network’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including virtual learning and the school’s reopening plan. She considers the virtual learning experience during the 2020-21 school year one of the highlights of her teaching career. While she initially considered teaching Pre-K students through a computer screen a “formidable task,” Foster said the experience quickly evolved into “a life-changing experience we, as a class community, will cherish forever.”


This inclusive class community, Foster noted, involved parents, siblings and even neighbors who offered support, guidance, and encouragement during distance learning lessons that combined hands-on learning, family involvement and real-world connections to engage students of all backgrounds and abilities.


“Family involvement allowed learning to extend beyond the virtual classroom, as parents became active participants and even co-teachers in the daily lessons. Time spent in the virtual classroom space was limited but maximized, as each lesson and activity allowed for cross-curriculum integration,” Foster explained in her DC Teacher of the Year application. “My belief in making learning an experience transcended the traditional classroom setting and we discovered how to bring joy into learning on a virtual platform.”


For more information on the DC Teacher of the Year program, visit the OSSE website<https://osse.dc.gov/service/district-columbia-teacher-year>.

https://www.localdvm.com/news/washington-dc/2022-dc-teacher-of-the-year-announced-during-surprise-celebration/

It’s time for an independent Office of the State Superintendent in the nation’s capital

There are two bills being debated currently in the D.C. Council regarding the reporting structure for the Office of the State Superintendent of Education in the District of Columbia. One suggestion is to have OSSE fall under the purview of the State Board of Education. This legislation should be dead on arrival since it reminds me of the terrible old days when the Board of Education contributed to our town having one of the worst run school systems in the country. No one wants to go back to those days.

However, the second proposal, authored by Councilmember Mary Cheh, comes out of more recent controversies around DCPS that arose four years ago. Beginning in November 2017, the traditional schools faced a trio of problems that came in quick succession. First, a study by WAMU and NPR found that many seniors attending Ballou High School should never have graduated. From their report:

“An investigation by WAMU and NPR has found that Ballou High School’s administration graduated dozens of students despite high rates of unexcused absences. WAMU and NPR reviewed hundreds of pages of Ballou’s attendance records, class rosters and emails after a DCPS employee shared the private documents. The documents showed that half of the graduates missed more than three months of school last year, unexcused. One in five students was absent more than present — missing more than 90 days of school. . . Another internal email obtained by WAMU and NPR from April shows that two months before graduation, only 57 students were on track to graduate, with dozens of students missing graduation requirements, community service requirements or failing classes needed to graduate.”

Then in February 2018, Deputy Mayor for Education Jennie Niles and DCPS Chancellor Antwan Wilson resigned after the D.C. inspector general had found that with Ms. Niles’ assistance one of Mr. Wilson’s children had bypassed the school lottery to gain admission to Wilson High School. She had been enrolled at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts but was not happy there.

That same month the Washington Post reported that OSSE had discovered that as many of half of the students attending the Duke Ellington School of the Performing Arts lived outside of D.C. but were claimed to be residents so the families would not have to pay tuition. The story stated that a lawyer at OSSE told officials in his organization to slow the fraud investigation “because of the risk of negative publicity during a mayoral election year.”

These incidents point to the problem of having OSSE report to the Mayor who also controls the traditional public schools. As Ms. Cheh indicates in her proposed legislation:

“However, in 2007, with the passage of the Public Education Reform Amendment Act of 2007 (“PERAA”), the SEO became the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, a change that came with much greater responsibility. OSSE took over a
number of responsibilities previously handled by the Board, including developing state-level standards and assessments, grantmaking, and, importantly, oversight of the District’s public schools. In addition, under PERAA, control of DCPS shifted from the Board of Education to the Mayor. For the first time, the District’s state level oversight body and its public school system were subordinate to the same person—the Mayor.

For this reason, OSSE is unlike any other state-level oversight body in the country. In every state, school districts answer to state-level education authorities, which are empowered to audit all school data and demand corrective action where an audit identifies areas of concern. In no other state does the state-level oversight body report to the head of a school system it oversees. This conflict of interest compromises the work of our Superintendent, risking the public’s trust in the integrity of our school data. Unfortunately, the effect of this conflict of interest on OSSE’s work is not merely speculative. In recent years, there have been concerning reports regarding OSSE’s oversight of our public school data, and failures to adequately identify errors or misrepresentations in data on student attendance, suspensions, and graduation rates. In these instances, it was members of the media—not OSSE—who identified these data issues and brought them to the public’s attention. In the normal course, such issues would have been identified as part of regular audits; that they were not raises genuine concerns about our audit processes and how OSSE oversees our school data. What’s more, at that time, it was reported that an OSSE attorney directed staff to delay a particular investigation because it was a mayoral election year.”

An independent OSSE would avoid the inherent conflict of interest that was established with PERAA’s passage in 2017.

I should mention that Shannon Hodge, the founding executive director of the DC Charter School Alliance, testified before the Council that she is opposed to both acts currently being debated about OSSE’s reporting structure. About Ms. Cheh’s suggestion she commented:

“Making OSSE an independent agency within the DC government, as the Office of the State Superintendent of Education Independence Amendment Act of 2021 (Bill 24-101) would do, would separate it from other agencies that it is deeply interconnected with. For example, OSSE and DC Health work closely together on a number of issues relating to the ongoing pandemic and need to be able to make coordinated decisions. OSSE simply needs the support and collaboration of every city agency to best accomplish their work.”

It is an unusual position because the new organizational structure of OSSE mirrors that of the DC Public Charter School Board. With the PCSB, the Mayor appoints the members but the body is run on its own. I say the council should pass this legislation.


Mayor Bowser quietly transfers closed Wilkinson Elementary to DC Prep PCS

A search yesterday of legislation before the D.C. Council revealed that Mayor Muriel Bowser has granted DC Prep PCS the right to lease DCPS’s former Wilkinson Elementary School in Ward 8 that was closed in 2009. The Council was scheduled to approve the transfer on Tuesday. The move by Ms. Bowser solves a major facility problem that for about three years has plagued the school founded by Emily Lawson in 2003. The approximately 146,000 square foot building will house DC Prep’s Anacostia elementary and middle schools.

Remember that back in 2019, shortly before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, DC Prep had purchased a property on Frankford Street S.E. for its Anacostia Middle School. The acquisition brought a public outcry at that year’s November meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board during which multiple community members testified that the charter had failed to inform them of its intention to open at this site. DC Prep had also leased space in the Birney Building and was hoping to take over this facility since the former Excel PCS was using this property, its rental agreement with Building Pathways was coming to an end, and it had converted to become a traditional school after being closed by the charter board. The Birney Building at the time was designated as a site for charters through an arrangement between Building Pathways and the D.C. Department of General Services.

Fast forward to May 2021 in one of the peaks in the public emergency, when Ms. Bowser took time to provide a facility update as part of a discussion around her upcoming budget proposal. As reported by the Washington Post’s Perry Stein:

“She plans to move the new Bard High School Early College to a permanent location in 2023 at the original Malcolm X Elementary — a shuttered campus in Southeast Washington — and allocate $80 million to the facility. The closed Spingarn High School in Northeast Washington would be home to the D.C. Infrastructure Academy. Excel Academy Public School will remain permanently at its current location at the old Birney building in Southeast Washington, which the city owns but has been leasing to charters. Bowser’s proposal would give charter school operators the option to lease the closed Wilkinson Elementary in Southeast Washington by 2024.”

The news that Wilkinson was being offered to charters represented only the second time in her tenure as Mayor that Ms. Bowser has turned a surplus DCPS building over to the alternative sector. In addition, the decision regarding the Birney Building was a blow to DC Prep. However, now we know that in the end the situation turned out exceedingly well for the charter school.

Anti-charter blogger Valerie Jablow has a lot to say about the apparent secretive nature of the awarding of Wilkinson to DC Prep. I have to say she has a point. There was no public announcement of the decision and it is not known if any other school bid for this property. The charter’s September 21, 2021 board meeting lists as an agenda item “AMC,” and then in the minutes of the session there is a discussion and vote on securing the new location but the name of the building is omitted. This is not exactly in the spirit of the Open Meetings law. As a movement we have got to do better than this.

Is Mayor Bowser trying to shutdown D.C.’s public charter school board?

These are certainly strange times for the District of Columbia’s charter school movement. As I pointed out toward the end of last month, there are now three vacancies on the DC Public Charter School Board. Saba Bireda stepped down in September and Naomi Shelton’s term concluded in August. There is still no nominee from Mayor Muriel Bowser to replace Steve Bumbaugh, a position that D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson wondered about during a hearing in June.

Then a bombshell landed when Mr. Bumbaugh wrote a recent editorial promoted by anti-charter Washington Post columnist Valerie Strauss in which he calls into question the very existence of the alternative sector that now educates 46 percent of all public school students, numbering approximately 46,500, in the nation’s capital.

“The District must rethink its charter schools,” Mr. Bumbaugh asserted.

The timing of the column is curious as the writer goes on to mention that two more representatives of the PCSB will see their volunteer service come to an end in the coming year. This would leave only two of seven slots filled. If there is to be continuity regarding this organization, then members really should be added now.

Perhaps there is a reason for Ms. Bowser’s delay. The Washington Post’s Perry Stein is fond of stating that charter schools are public entities that are privately run. For years, the charter board has been criticized by those who oppose the sector as not being responsible to the citizenry. As the Mayor contemplates a run for a third term it is possible that she would like to take an action to quell these concerns. One move I could imagine her making is to fold responsibility for the city’s charters under the State Board of Education.

This is not so farfetched. The board was the original authorizer of charters in the District. They got out of the charter business at the same time that the Mayor took over control of the regular schools. One way for the Mayor to exert authority over these freewheeling charters is to group them with DCPS under one governing body. It would essentially put all 95,000 pupils under her purview.

We have a former member of the charter board stating that the 25 year experiment in school reform needs to be re-imagined. Scott Pearson’s replacement, Dr. Michelle Walker-Davis, has placed a twelve month pause on the approval of new schools and the grade level expansion of existing classrooms. Ms. Bowser is dictating the COVID response for both sectors. Now the Council has exceeded its powers in passing a law expanding virtual learning in charters.

From where I am sitting, it appears that the PCSB is coming to an end.

Number of D.C. students permitted to learn virtually now in charter school’s court

Yesterday, the D.C. Council went ahead and unanimously passed emergency legislation expanding the number of students permitted to take classes through distance learning, but the number was far less than Chairman Mendelson had in mind when he proposed the bill. As the Washington Post’s Perry Stein informed us on Tuesday, only an additional two hundred elementary school pupils and one hundred fifty middle school students will be able to participate “if their doctors recommend they stay at home or if they live with a relative who is at high risk for a severe case of the coronavirus.”

Those eligible will join approximately 285 DCPS scholars who are currently learning virtually.

The reason for the small incremental increase, according to Ms. Stein, was due to pressure from Mayor Bowser’s administration pointing to higher costs associated with allowing more children to be taught outside of the classroom. As I mentioned previously, the Council’s rule is that emergency legislation cannot include a rise in expenditures.

The act includes an extremely interesting caveat for charters. As stated in the Post story, “charter networks have more leeway, with the council saying each can decide how many eligible virtual learners to accommodate, though each network must cap it at no less than 3 percent of its student body.”

Actually, the situation has not changed for this sector over the past twenty-four hours. Do the DC PCSB, DC Charter School Alliance, and the sixty eight schools on one hundred thirty three campuses as independent local education agencies, fall in line blindly to the dictates of the Council, or do they legitimately take matters into their own hands in deciding how many students have to be in their buildings?

You already know my opinion as to the way things will play out. Stay with me as we watch events unfold.

D.C. Council set to battle with charter schools; my guess is that charters blink

When Scott Pearson was executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board and he testified in front of the D.C. Council, he had polite and respectful conversations with Education Committee Chairman David Grosso. However, there were a few occasions when conflict arose, especially when Mr. Grosso asked Mr. Pearson for an explanation regarding why charters were not complying with a particular law. Mr. Pearson had to clarify that in reference to the matter under discussion it was the charter sector’s view that the Council lacked jurisdiction.

Last Friday, the Washington Post’s Perry Stein revealed that Council Chairman Phil Mendelson is planning on introducing emergency legislation that would increase the number of students eligible for virtual instruction from home. She wrote:

“Under the legislation, which was still being modified Friday, students under12 who are ineligible for a coronavirus vaccine would be allowed to stay home if they live with someone who is immunocompromised.

It would also allow any student to participate in virtual learning if their doctors recommend that they remain home because they have a health condition that would put them at higher risk for complications if they contract the virus. The virtual learning plan would also apply to both the traditional public and charter sectors, according to a draft bill.”

Now here is the problem. The Council lacks authority to mandate that charter schools provide on-line classes. While there is no debate that the city’s representatives can legislate charters regarding issues of health and safety, not in the broadest interpretation of this criteria would it be acceptable for the legislative body to encroach on the autonomy of the alternative school sector regarding distance learning.

Mayor Muriel Bowser reacted immediately and unequivocally when she heard about Mr. Mendelson’s plan. Ms. Stein says she expressed her viewpoint in a letter to the Council. She wrote:

“It is therefore of paramount importance that we do not disrupt our hard-won, in-person learning for the tens of thousands of students who are in dire need of consistent and quality instruction and socialization. As such, I am very troubled and angered by any legislation that aims to disrupt learning or that will tax and burden our schools.”

While the Mayor is strongly defending her authority to manage DCPS, charters are not so bold. The Post states that DC Charter School Alliance founding executive director Shannon Hodge responded to the news about the emergency act this way:

“The legislation reflects concerns from parents and that there are a ‘significant’ number of students who have completed enrollment paperwork but have not attended school, suggesting they could be staying home for coronavirus-related reasons.”

The comment is especially ironic because charters were apparently directed by PCSB staff not to offer on-line classes. One leader of a prominent network of schools told me recently the organization was dissuaded from filing a charter amendment to provide virtual instruction after being informed that it would be denied. The feeling was this decision was coming out of fear of interfering with Ms. Bowser’s muscular push to have all kids back in the classroom.

If I had to conjecture, I would say that the PCSB and Alliance will roll over and acquiesce to the Council’s directive.

Complicating the passage of the Council Chairman’s bill is the requirement that emergency legislation cannot increase costs. The Mayor has already insinuated that the new law comes with a price tag.

There is one additional portion of the act which is worth noting, as Ms. Perry details:

“The bill also would allow students to receive excused absences if they remain home for pandemic-related reasons. Parents testified at a D.C. Council hearing last month that if one of their children was quarantined and they kept another child home, which the city does not recommend, the sibling would accrue unexcused absences. Too many could lead to a call, and a possible neglect investigation, from the Child and Family Services Agency.”

The Council is set to vote on the measure today. It takes nine councilmembers to pass emergency legislation.

Former D.C. charter board member Steve Bumbaugh’s injudicious editorial

I had the weekend to ponder Steve Bumbaugh’s polemic attack on D.C.’s charter school movement and I must admit that I am baffled. Mr. Bumbaugh described his tour of a Ward 8 charter school in 2017 when he served on the DC Public Charter School Board that left him “saddened, even defeated.” He wrote:

“When I entered the school for my scheduled visit, I was greeted by one of the founders, a 30-something man with energy and charm. He was joined by the school’s board chair, a distinguished senior partner from one of D.C.’s blue-chip law firms.”

Mr. Bumbaugh recalled he had been to this location before. “I remember visiting 25 years ago when it was part of the D.C. public school system,” he asserted. “That school was closed in 2009 — one of dozens closed in the last 15 years — and now several charter schools occupy the campus.”

From his descriptions it is clear that Mr. Bumbaugh is detailing his time at Ingenuity Prep PCS. He most certainly was hosted by then chief executive officer Aaron Cuny and board chair Peter Winick. Mr. Winick recently retired from the international law firm Latham & Watkins LLP. The charter operates out of the former PR Harris Educational Center that was closed in 2009 that also now houses a branch of the University of the District of Columbia. The National Collegiate Preparatory Academy PCS was also operating there before its charter was revoked.

I wrote last week that Mr. Bumbaugh in his piece chronicled a charter school sector I do not recognize. Now I realize that his account of the charter school is divorced from reality. I know because I too traveled to Ingenuity Prep. I interviewed Mr. Cuny almost exactly twelve months after Mr. Bumbaugh came to the facility. In his Washington Post column, as reprinted by reporter Valerie Strauss, Mr. Bumbaugh said he saw children treated as if they were incarcerated:

“I discovered that children as young as 3 years old could spend an entire day in seclusion, away from their classmates, if they were wearing the wrong color shoes. I am dumbstruck. Is this even legal?”

I spent only a short period with Mr. Cuny. But I remember coming away from my conversation astonishingly blown away by his sincere desire to provide a high quality educational option for children who had been neglected by the educational establishment. As for Mr. Winick, who I have known for years, I can tell you with absolute certainty that he cares with every part of his being for the disadvantaged children his school serves.

I am frankly trying to understand what this school did to deserve such an onslaught by Mr. Bumbaugh. Ingenuity Prep was founded by Mr. Cuny, who is no longer associated with the charter, and Mr. Will Stoetzer, the current CEO. They did not have to start the school. They had been colleagues at D.C. Bilingual PCS. Anyone who has a first-hand knowledge of what it takes to open a charter in the nation’s capital, especially in Anacostia, understands that the challenges are not for the faint of heart. It is an act of pure bravery. Here’s what I recorded back in 2018 when I spoke to Mr. Cuny:

 “’Our belief from the beginning was that all D.C. families deserve accessible, quality school options,’ the Ingenuity Prep CEO explained, ‘and for too many families, especially those in Wards 7 and 8, this opportunity does not exist. We felt a moral obligation to help build something that would give families another choice.’ Around the time that Mr. Cuny and his co-founder, Will Stoetzer, the school’s chief operating officer, were writing their charter application, the Illinois Facility Fund study was released. The report analyzed, across 39 neighborhood clusters in Washington, D.C., the gap between the density of students in those neighborhood clusters and the supply of high performing schools. Mr. Cuny and Mr. Stoetzer identified the neighborhood where there was the greatest gap between the number of students and the number of quality school seats available to families.”

Ingenuity Prep opened in 2013. Five years later the charter was posting some of the most impressive academic results in the city. Here are some examples:

  • Ingenuity Prep’s students’ combined English Language Arts and Math scores ranked in the 74th percentile of all D.C. district and public charter schools, outperforming a range of higher-income schools across the city,
  • Students’ combined scores ranked 2nd of 36 schools in the Ward 8,
  • Of D.C. schools where the tested student population had an “at-risk” (or high-poverty) rate of 50% or greater, Ingenuity Prep’s students ranked near the top: 7th of 113 schools.
  • For the second year in a row, no school in the city with a higher “at-risk” (or high-poverty) rate had better combined English Language Arts and Math scores.
  • Students’ gains from the 2016-17 school year in English Language Arts ranked at the 92nd percentile of all district and public charter schools, and
  • Of new charter organizations opened by D.C.’s public charter school board in the past 10 years, Ingenuity Prep ranks in the top 10 and is the only such school located in Southeast D.C.

I have a more fundamental issue with the comments by the former PCSB member. Mr. Bumbaugh was part of the board from 2015 to 2021. If he had such grave concerns regarding the pedagogy at Ingenuity Prep I certainly did not hear them, and keep in mind that I watch every one of the charter board’s monthly meetings. Even more bewildering is his lack of participation when a few disgruntled former employees used numerous PCSB meeting open comment periods to accuse the charter of malpractice when it came to teaching special education students.

No, I think there is something going else going on here. However, I will not speculate about Mr. Bumbaugh’s motivations. What I do know for certain is that if you want to see first-hand a charter school that has figured out how to close the academic achievement gap that has bewildered educators for decades, then get yourself over to Ingenuity Prep.

 

Steve Bumbaugh describes a local D.C. charter movement that does not exist

I always respected Steve Bumbaugh’s contributions when he served on the DC Public Charter School Board. His passionate concern was always for those at the bottom of the economic ladder, the very students that the charter movement was established to serve. The fact is that when charter schools first arrived on the scene in Washington, D.C., the main reason that parents sent their offspring to one was for safety. It was probably a much better decision for poor families to keep their kids at home in 1996 for there was very little education going on in the traditional school system. DCPS was characterized by physically deteriorating classrooms and educational malpractice from the lectern.

In a column by Mr. Bumbaugh printed by Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post, he describes an unnamed no-excuses charter school that four years ago he observed treating children like prisoners. He wrote:

“I discovered that children as young as 3 years old could spend an entire day in seclusion, away from their classmates, if they were wearing the wrong color shoes. I am dumbstruck. Is this even legal?”

I have personally visited many charters in Wards 7 and 8 and I have never seen an environment like the one he describes.

The opinion piece goes on to call for representation on the governing body of the DC PCSB to mirror the low-income student bodies that charters admit. From the article:

“In the District, 80 percent of families attending charters are eligible for free and reduced lunch, but the charter school board has not in its 25-year history appointed a single board member who lives in poverty. Why not adjust the PCSB’s contours to reflect the communities in which these schools are located instead of incessantly asking poor Black people to acclimate?”

The DC PCSB has done one thing consistently well since its founding twenty five years ago. It has focused on quality, allowing good schools to grow and replicate while closing those where academic progress has not been met. This mission has remained true no matter the racial and socioeconomic makeup of its members. I would hate to do anything that would disrupt this tradition.

But Mr. Bumbaugh does bring up a crucial point. Despite the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been spent on this alternative sector, standardized test scores are not better for Black children compared to the regular schools. It is something I’ve noticed and written about for years.

The problem is due to a tremendous contradiction that exists in our local movement. Charter schools were designed to be fountains of innovation in teaching students that in the past were not well served by regular schools, and yet they are held beginning in their second year to high standards as measured by the Performance Management Framework. I would imagine it is extremely difficult to try something new when faced with the real possibility of closure. This is the reason that with time more and more charters resemble the schools for which they were meant to be an alternative.

Unfortunately, after writing about and supporting charters for over a decade I do not have a solution to this dilemma. However, I do know one thing. If you spend time in any of our charters your eyes will almost certainly tear up with joy due to the care and passion and energy being put forth by those doing the work.

Individual D.C. public schools are having to perform their own Covid-19 contact tracing

Yesterday, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson held a seven-hour public hearing to gather information on the process of re-opening schools this fall. The Washington Post’s Perry Stein covered the event, focusing only on the experiences of DCPS. For example, she writes:

“Publicly available data indicates that, as of Friday, D.C. Public Schools had reported 370 positive cases among its 52,000 students and 1,088 students were quarantined. There had also been 120 positive cases among the system’s 7,500 employees. The District has an asymptomatic testing program, but so far, it has failed to meet its goal to test at least 10 percent of students for the virus in every school each week.”

Ms. Stein leaves out the 43,857 scholars who learn in our nation’s capital charters, I guess because she insists that these schools are “publicly funded but privately run.” I mean really, if your job is to put into words what is happening in this town’s classrooms cover both sectors or simply refer to yourself as the government-run school reporter.

In her piece she documents parent complaints about how the year is going, including unstandardized procedures if a student tests positive, the lack of a virtual option for families that would rather keep their kids at home, and a dearth of study material when students have to quarantine. But here is the part that I found particularly disturbing:

“The union representing the principals has said the administration of contact tracing has wrongly fallen to individual schools.”

This statement appears to be accurate because the issue is also mentioned by DC Public Charter School Board executive director Dr. Michelle Walker-Davis in her testimony:

“And schools are adapting protocols to keep up with the evolving guidance. The flexibility afforded to LEAs in the interpretation of the guidance has put a lot of pressure and tough decisions on school leaders. Some of that flexibility, intended to account for the unique characteristics of each school community, has made it difficult to explain protocols and procedures to families to get them comfortable with safety plans.

We also hear contact tracing needs to improve. Currently, contact tracing is done at the individual school level by the school staff, based on guidance from DC Health and with support from OSSE. This process is burdensome, taxing already stressed educators, including those at our state education agency, whose primary focus should be on teaching and learning.”

Really, on top of trying to teach kids wearing masks all day and using energy that should be channeled to instruction on keeping scholars safe, the individual staffs of our charters need to contact trace? You have got to be joking. This is the best plan that Mayor Bowser, Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn, and acting D.C. State Superintendent of Education Christina Grant can come up with after all these months on planning? This is ridiculous.

I wish that the DC PCSB and the DC Charter School Alliance had listened to me. Charters have throughout their history taken matters into their own hands. When no one would provide them with a building, even though they are public schools, they figured out how to get them. When the payment from the city didn’t come on time they somehow managed to meet payroll. When a long line of education experts said they couldn’t close the academic achievement gap they produced standardized test scores as high as selective institutions.

The movement needs to stop feeling like they are somehow inferior to traditional facilities. Also, they have to end their fear of the Mayor. Charters must once again be bold in the face of all the odds stacked against them. That is the way we will reach the golden goal of equity.



Membership on the D.C. charter board dwindling

Last evening’s monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board started strangely. Long-term member and previous vice chair Saba Bireda announced that this was her last meeting. Also on the Zoom broadcast for a short period was Naomi Shelton. She revealed that her last meeting was actually the August session. She had joined just to say her farewells. Both individuals received accolades from the remaining members of the board.

Recall that last June during a D.C. Council oversight hearing on the charter sector, Chairman Mendelson asked whether DC PCSB chair Rick Cruz and executive director Dr. Michelle Walker-Davis were aware of Mayor Muriel Bowser naming a replacement board member for Steve Bumbaugh whose term had ended, and whether she intended to renew the term of Ms. Shelton. Neither had any information. Now here we are at the end of September with Ms. Bireda having to step down apparently because she has accepted a position with the federal government that conflicts with her PCSB service and, as I postulated three months ago, Ms. Shelton will not get a second appointment to the board. This leaves the charter board with only four members. I cannot recall a time in the approximately twenty-five year history of the PCSB that the number of members has dropped so low.

I do not know if it is the impact of this terrible pandemic or the lack of support for his body from D.C.’s chief executive, but chair Rick Cruz appeared dejected. Or it could have been due to a general lack of enthusiasm by the populace for the charter movement as a whole. For also on this night, Ms. Walker-Davis announced that her organization is in the midst of reviewing the application process for new schools and for replication. Of course, this evaluation is long overdue, and I have called for years to make it simpler both for charters to open and grow. Charter school expansion has been much too bureaucratic. However, I was shocked to hear that because of this deliberation no new charter applications will be accepted until the 2023 cycle and all existing schools will also be prevented from adding additional grade levels until that time. Charter amendments for expansion of student ceiling limits will still be entertained. It felt to me that perhaps we should simply end this entire experiment in school reform.

Or maybe it already has stopped. Earlier in the day the Mayor mandated that all school employees and contractors, no matter what their role, will now have to vaccinated against Covid-19, without an option to skip the shot and be tested. This is something Rocketship PCS, Perry Street PCS, and Monument Academy PCS adopted weeks ago and a mandate that the charter movement should have led as it used to proudly set high standards. The DC Charter School Alliance went along with the move with founding executive director Shannon Hodge stating, “Charter school leaders and the DC Charter School Alliance are prepared to work together with Mayor Bowser, DC Public Schools, and DC Health to ensure we provide safe spaces to learn and adequately protect students and staff in the fight against COVID-19.” Really, what else could she say at this point?

As if all of this was not depressing enough, WAMU’s Martin Austermuhle reported last week that eleven charter schools have agreed to include an admission preference for at-risk students. The ability to offer this preference was granted to charters by the D.C. Council in 2020, and is in addition to admission preferences that include siblings of existing enrolled students, children of school employees, and special education students. As a school choice purist, I am fine with the admission advantage for siblings and employees but I stop there. In the most simple terms I do not believe anyone should be discriminated against when trying to gain a seat at these schools. The answer for charters wanting a greater proportion of at-risk students is to open more campuses that can serve these scholars, especially if we can accomplish this by taking over failing traditional schools. It is what we should have been doing for years.

Last month I observed a brief spark in our local charter ecosystem and I was hoping this was the start of a flame. It looks like the match has burned out.